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Captain's Diary, Day 6: England, Turkey
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There were only two matches left in the round-robin. We liked our chances of qualifying, but there was one thing that made us nervous: TURKEY, our last-round opponent, playedKUWAIT in the first match, while we played ENGLAND. IfTURKEYhad scored a big win while we lost, our last match might have decided our fate. In fact,TURKEY lost toKUWAIT while we crushedENGLAND.With one match to play, we were a mathematical lock to qualfify, standing more than 20 VPs ahead of sixth place. In fact, all of the qualifiers from our group were determined:POLAND, ENGLAND,JAPAN,USA, andMONACO were guaranteed to qualify.

When we met TURKEY in the final match we had good chances of moving up in the standings. We were fourth, a mere 4 VPs behind second-placeENGLAND and 3.5 behind JAPAN. JAPAN playedMONACOandENGLANDplayedNORWAY, so if one or both of those teams lost or won by a small margin, we might be able to come third or even second depending on our result. Whether that would have been good for us is unclear, due to the knockout round selection procedures and the fact that the teams have no say on the bracket beyond their initial selection of an opponent.JAPAN won by 8 andENGLAND by 17, and our 15-IMP victory wasn't enough: we needed to win by 28 to catchJAPAN and we needed even more to passENGLAND. It would have been nice to finish higher, but we recovered well from a very poor start, winning the last 11 straight matches and suffering no bad losses after Day 1. The final score in Group B:

1.POLAND (239 VPs)

2.ENGLAND (225)

3.JAPAN (223)

4.USA (221)

5.MONACO (207)

Things were more exciting in some other groups.In Group A,SWITZERLAND emerged from its match against FRANCE mostly unscathed. It had lost 29-27, but they ended 6 VPs clear ofINDIA—a near-blitz by the group leader would have seen a different qualifier. The final Group-A standings:

1. FRANCE (248)

2.ITALY (238)

3. RUSSIA (215)

4.ISRAEL (212)

5.SWITZERLAND (200)

Group C was where the action really was, though.AUSTRIA could have clinched its group by blowing outHUNGARY, but it lost by 1 instead, whileTHE NETHERLANDS won small, taking over the lead.DENMARK, which could have propelled itself into qualifying position, perhaps by displacing its last-round opponent,SPAIN, with a big win. There was a big win, but it went toSPAIN, capping a solid round-robin with a third-place finish. The qualfiers:

1.THE NETHERLANDS (234)

2.AUSTRIA (232)

3.SPAIN (217)

4.SWEDEN (213)

5.NEW ZEALAND (212)

CANADA, from Group C, was the 16th "at large" qualifier as the best sixth-place team, with 201 VPs.

After the last round-robin match ended, we assembled in the Vugraph theater for the captiains' meeting. The main purpose was to pick opponents for the round of 16, but they also gave us information about lineup procedure and some other things.

The qualifying teams were ranked as follows: the group winner with the most VPs (FRANCE), became the 1-seed, then the second-best-ranked winner,POLAND, and so on down. That ranking yielded:

1.FRANCE, Group A

2.POLAND, Group B

3.THE NETHERLANDS, Group C

4.ITALY, Group A

5.AUSTRIA, Group C

6.ENGLAND, Group B

7.JAPAN, Group B

8.SPAIN,Group C

The other teams were put in the 9-16 pool. Starting withFRANCE and moving on down, each team would pick its opponent from the 9-16 group, but a team could neither select a team from its own group nor select a team that would force a playback. The vagaries of team rankings, available choices, and perceived strength of the other teams meant that it wasn't necessarily better to be a higher-ranked team or worse to be in the 9-16 group. There would be no carryover in the knockout matches at all.

FRANCE pickedNEW ZEALAND, thenPOLAND tookSWITZERLAND.THE NETHERLANDSchoseRUSSIA, andCANADAwent toITALY.AUSTRIA, which had come close to winning its group, had to choose one of the Group-B teams:USAorMONACO. AUSTRIA picked MONACO—some reward for a good performance.ENGLAND had the choice ofISRAELandSWEDEN and opted for the former, leavingJAPAN withSWEDEN andSPAINwithUSA. The later matches are decided solely based on the assigned seeding, sothe winner ofFRANCE-NEW ZEALAND plays the winner ofSPAIN-USA.

All the knockout matches will be 96 boards long, contested in six 16-board segments over two days. The first match has an odd schedule: four sessions tomorrow and only two on Sunday. That's because there is a marathon scheduled, which will cause the city to shut down in the morning and afternoon on Sunday.

Congrats to the American teams for qualifying in all categories. The US Women nearly won their group, instead coming second toFRANCE, while the US Seniors dominated their event throughout, eventually finishing well over a match clear of second place. Our Mixed Team had a tougher time,but it ended where it needed to be—in a qualifying slot. The Americanround of 16 matchups: USAWomen vs.AUSTRALIA;USA Seniors vs.CHINA HONG KONG;USA Mixed vs.JAPAN.

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